an email that someone sends you. Is that a true story? Did that really happen? Fortunately when reading about some of these things there are resources to ferret out what is true and what is not. Snopes.com is one of those sources you can turn to. Snopes.com is a website that is dedicated to researching and debunking false claims and false stories.
On the website they share their philosophy on research and report what details should be doubted and what stories should be believed. They have an entire glossary which describes what legends are true, mostly true, or false. They have strict guidelines for what should be believed and what should be doubted as false. They state on their website: “We rate an urban legend as "true" when there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the legend began with a real-life event… Many urban legends describe events so general and plausible that they might very well have happened to somebody, somewhere, sometime. But since the origins of urban legends can seldom be traced to specific, identifiable occurrences, we rarely categorize such legends as ‘true.’”
Another aspect of the site is that they show you their research. This allows you as the reader to go and check their sources if you so choose. The website states: “We don't expect anyone to accept us as the ultimate authority on any topic. Unlike the plethora of anonymous individuals who create and send the unsigned, un-sourced e-mail messages that are forwarded all over the Internet, we show our work. The research materials we've used in the preparation of any particular page are listed in the bibliography displayed at the bottom of that page so that readers who wish to verify the validity of our information may check those sources for themselves.”
So in thinking about legends, old wives tales, and other folktales, it seems to me that these investigators of the rumor mill basically use two rules when it comes to their investigations: #1 they look for specific, identifiable occurrences to ensure that a rumor is true. #2 they show their sources and work so that you can do your own research. Both of those rules of Snopes.com will come back and be important a little later.
DEFINITIONS OF DOUBT
“Doubt” is one of those words that appear in our lives in many different areas:
In a court of law, criminal cases are tried in the adversarial system where the prosecution is required to prove their case and facts beyond a “reasonable doubt.” I am not so sure I know what “reasonable” means sometimes, but it makes sense that the prosecution must present the case so that a reasonable person would be convinced of the guilt or innocence of a suspected criminal before the sentence is handed down.
Philosophers would tell us that “doubt” is a paradox where the mind is caught between two different propositions and a person cannot make up their mind about either one.